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May 14, 2001
The Many Varieties of Funds for Writers from Grants and Contests to Non-Profit Partnerships
By C. Hope Clarke

Why is it either feast or famine for writers? When we stereotype writers we envision either a starving, struggling artist or a celebrity writer with a home in the mountains and another on the coast. Fame or obscurity seems to be the limited categories.

While attending a writers' group in Georgia last year, I expected conversation along the line of publishing conflicts, editor condemnations, advertising woes and writers block. Instead what dominated the scene was talk of financial problems. Even one successful children's writer who attended appeared dwarfed in comparison to the sagas centered around fund shortages.

I remember sitting there thinking what a shame. In a room full of creative writers, not an ounce of creativity was directed towards finding the dollars needed to fulfill their dreams. One writer no longer had the postage to continue mailing heavy manuscripts to editors. Another complained about the price of printer ink cartridges. And yet another struggled with the travel costs of her speaking engagements. Writing wasn't putting food on the table, much less making them comfortable for retirement. Right brain mentality definitely dominated the room with not a soul thinking from the other side of her mind.

Funds exist in many arenas for writers. No, they don't appear as lottery winnings and solve all problems. Nothing in this life is free, but opportunities abound when one thinks "outside the box."

The simple concepts come first. Contests spring eternal. $20, $50, $100 and even $1000 and $2000 contests are everywhere. And yes, many do not require entry fees. Others do, and the individual has to judge when to draw the line on writing a check for the privilege of entering. $10 might be a small price to pay for a $1000 prize. One's budget determines the threshold. Personally, an entry fee over 1 or 2 % of the first prize money becomes questionable.

The next question is where to find these jewels. Writers' newsletters and web sites cover most opportunities, but many fine contests exist through Art and Humanities Councils within each state. These entities exist to serve cultural expansion and attention. These groups are the most endearing entities a writer can find in the bureaucratic world.

Awards constitute a different financial source altogether. Those writers with published books, groups of poems or manuscripts on the shelf should entertain awards. They rarely require fees. But even better, an award provides instant recognition within the publishing world. How many times have you envied a writer's byline that contained "winner of the 1999 ___ Award" or "finalist for the So-and-So Literary Award?" Don't discount these chances. If you underestimate your own work, how is anybody else going to judge it, much less enjoy it? Enter your work. You have absolutely nothing to lose and only funds and free advertising to gain.

Fellowships and grants are the stuff dreams are made of for writers. Some writers don't even know they exist. Thousands of fellowships and grants provide the tools for writers to accomplish their needs. But the largest problem I see with writers seeking these monies is this. They want someone to hand them a grant just because they want to be a writer.

If a young man wants to open a business, does he obtain a loan, much less a grant, by stating he wants it? No, he does his research and prepares a marketing plan and financial statement. He must convince the banker, grantor or venture capitalist that his is an idea worth the investment. Even a student wanting a college scholarship must have certain credentials whether they are financial need, academic history or athletic prowess. In other words, you must show more than an outstretched hand in requesting funds. What are you offering the people with the money in return for their interest in you?

Take your writing idea and develop it. Your goal isn't writing a book. It is solving a problem or educating the masses about a topic or entertaining people in need of cultural release. Identify what you are doing, then put your plan to paper. Put your thoughts on paper and state your goals. Then seek those grants.

Grants arise from foundations, endowments, nonprofits, and charities. But they also come from businesses and corporations. The key is to find the sponsor that matches your needs and then preparing a request that makes them come looking for you waving a check. Your writing skills must be used in your solicitation as much or more than in your actual project.

Project? Yes. As a writer, you have a project, or else you have a hobby. It is that simple. Decide where you stand as a writer and accept that point. So you decide you are serious. What is your project? Following are actual projects by subscribers to FundsforWriters newsletter:

§ How-to parenting guides;
§ Overcoming child abuse;
§ Teaching self-expression through poetry for adults with depression;
§ Managing children with ADHD;
§ Animal welfare;
§ Arts and crafts education;
§ Providing humanities curricula in schools;
§ Teaching children self-respect;
§ Empowering young women;
§ Children's books on diversity; and so on.

These writers had visions in their project arena, but not in finding support. So now the point was locating funding partners.

Writers can pursue arts councils, educational institutions, literary agencies, and writing guilds to pursue financial support. They can take their project's concept, and picture where a partner can fit in. Here is an example obtained from USA Today recently:

"Low literary costs American business and industry billions of dollars a year." Join Northwest Airlines in supporting Literary Partners in its efforts to help adults develop
basic reading, writing and math skills. Call 212-725-9200."

That was the entire ad. However, it was in the upper right hand corner of the front page. Can you imagine the coverage gained by that non-profit (Literary Partners)? Look again. Does Northwest Airlines have anything to do with literacy? Doesn't that tell you that any business is subject to a partnership arrangement with you in promoting your cause?

Think in terms of your writing's promotion. Would promotion of your writing also aid the promotion of a business, school, church, community group, local government entity, or charity? Now lets take a look at the above examples in terms of partners:

§ How-to parenting guides - sponsored by a district's or state's PTOs;
§ Overcoming child abuse - endorsed by a hospital endowment or mental health nonprofit;
§ Teaching self-expression through poetry for adults with depression - partially funded by an adult literacy organization in conjunction with a humanities council and a writing guild;
§ Managing children with ADHD - supported by school districts and a professional pediatric association;
§ Animal welfare - endorsed by the Humane Society, local kennels, obedience schools and especially the local government agency affiliated with animal control;
§ Arts and crafts education - sponsored by a craft store corporation, the local YMCA, resident living facilities, daycares, or university liberal arts department;
§ Providing humanities curricula in schools - supported by a grant written by you for the schools in which you wish to pursue your work;
§ Empowering young women - partially funded by any women's groups;
§ Children's books on diversity - endorsed by numerous nationality, gender, and ethnic organizations.

Don't think in terms of just writing a book. Think in terms of a project, an impact, a vision, a goal. Then match the funding streams with your project. Or just do what Literacy Partners did with Northwest Airlines. Make your pitch and ask for help.

Start with your local or state-wide councils for humanities and arts. If uncertain about the address for yours, go to your state government online and search. Then proceed to the National Endowment for the Arts ( and the National Endowment for the Humanities ( for concentrated financial support for the cultural arts. Then see the Foundation Center's web site, the ultimate source of grant funds (

Then approach the groups like the ones above, pairing them with your subject matter. Make them see what an impact you intend to have on the community, the problem, the world. You are passionate about your vision, and you want to share that with your sponsor offering them the opportunity to be part of a solution.

Now that you are excited, do you dare think even larger? Have you considered becoming a non-profit yourself? Non-profit entities have access to an unbelievable storehouse of funds. Most charities, foundations and endowments limit themselves (for tax purposes) to non-profit entities. Philanthropy is made up of non-profit organizations. Money gets doled out to more non-profits than you can imagine. Sometimes all it takes is a simple application or concept paper and you can have $10,000 in your bank account to write your book.

Your local IRS help-desk is there to aid you in this decision. You would be quite amazed at the organizations you see everyday that are non-profit in nature. IRS has simple instructions on gaining non-profit status. An appointment with them would be worth your while. An hour with the friendlier, gentler Internal Revenue Service might change your world (

Whoa, you say. You just want to write a book. Fine. Write your book. But if you need the funds to make it work, you have to either write a bestseller, win some major contests, or get financially creative.

So if you have a purpose, a passion or a concept that you incessantly dream about, what have you got to lose by seeking your future in partnerships and grants? That's where the big bucks live, and if Scribner, Doubleday or Putnam Books aren't knocking down your door, why not create your own destiny? One day they will be calling you when they realize the success you've made of yourself.

C. Hope Clark is a freelance writer by night and government bureaucrat by day. She serves as editor for FundsforWriters newsletters for writers. She has published articles in local newspapers and numerous online publications as well as FundsforWriters: The book is available at, and

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